Elizabeth Báthory: The Horrific Tale Of the Blood Countess


Sunset at Bathory castle. (Ľuboš Balažovič/Getty Images)

The so-called "Blood Countess" was born a Hungarian noblewoman named Elizabeth Báthory in present-day Slovakia in the year 1560. How much of her tale is myth and how much is fact is still wrestled with by modern historians, but much evidence points to the horrific notion that this woman was likely one of the most prolific serial killers of all time. Though wealthy, her upbringing was marred with brutality, as even in her childhood, she was witness to the violent punishments of her time. This included watching a horse disemboweled only for a thief to be sewn into its stomach, leading to the demise of both. Needless to say, the girl's childhood was not filled with sugar and spice and everything nice.

It may be no wonder, then, that she herself was prone to violence and soon began retaliating against the servants in her home. Her husband, Frenec Nadasdy, known himself for deep cruelty on the battlefield, is said to have initially taught young Elizabeth in the ways of torture regarding servants who displeased her, often by means of burning their toes. He eventually died in war, but his lessons in cruelty carried on, and she soon graduated from abuse to full-on murder.

Copy of the lost 1585 original portrait of Elizabeth Báthory. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

The Countess's methods were beyond horrific, accounts of which range from drenching her victims in water before leaving them out to die of hypothermia to covering them in honey or other delicacies to entice animals to devour them in front of her. Other accounts report more direct methods of torture, from stabbing sewing needles into people's fingers to beating them with whips and even biting them to the point of mutilation.

As horrible as this was, there was little recourse for those families who lost loved ones to the Countess's wicked fascinations. As the law stood, the peasant class could not press charges against a noble, no matter how horrific their crime. It wasn't until Báthory ran through the peasants, killing an estimated 600 girls throughout the years, that she had to turn toward the lower gentry for more victims. In 1606, Elizabeth opened a girls' school on her property and quickly turned against her students. These lower nobles were allowed to advocate for their lost children, and charges were at last pressed against the cruel Countess.

Vampire (1895) by Edvard Munch. (Munch Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

A trial was set to begin in 1610, and both physical evidence on her estate combined with the testimony of dozens of witnesses sealed Báthory's fate. Even with a mountain of evidence against her, however, the only punishment allowed by the law was banishment to a single room in the Castle of Csejte, essentially living under house arrest. It seems this was bad enough, however, as she only lasted three years in this state before dying in her room from an unidentified disease. The legend of her misdeeds spread, and modern folklorists often credit her tale as a great influence on the burgeoning vampire mythology that erupted from Eastern Europe over the following centuries.

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